By Robin Gomes
Sunday, August 1, marks 6 months since the military coup in Myanmar that has thrown the impoverished nation into a spiralling crisis with serious political, socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian repercussions on the people.
The UN’s Acting Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator, Ramanathan Balakrishnan, explained how people have been severely impacted across the country since the junta overthrew Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government on February 1. Since then, the junta's security force has been cracking down heavily on protesters and their supporters. “The situation in the country is characterized now by instability and a deteriorating socio-economic and security situation and to add to that, we have a raging third wave of COVID-19,” Balakrishnan told UN News.
Highlighting the ongoing nature of armed resistance to the military’s security forces “in several ethnic minority areas” including in the states of Shan, Chin and Kachin, the UN’s top aid official said that more than 200,000 people had been uprooted from their homes there to date.
According to the UN Humanitarian Response Plan, before the coup, Rakhine already had some 1 million people, including internally displaced people (IDP), in urgent need of help. “This number has only swelled,” Balakrishnan lamented.
More widely, “following the coup, an additional two million were identified as those in urgent need of humanitarian aid, and those were largely in the urban areas of Yangon and Mandalay”, he said. The intensification of clashes and the worsening socio-economic situation was pushing “tens of thousands of people” into a humanitarian space” every day.
Balakrishnan echoed the concerns over rights abuses by the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF and others, and condemned the ongoing and widespread use of lethal force by the military against civilian protesters.
In a post on Twitter, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated over 220,000 people have been displaced by conflicts and insecurity since the coup.
Balakrishnan explained that an increase in the price of basic commodities has led to “a reduction of the nutrition value of the food basket that people usually take as they substitute their regular food with cheaper, more readily available items”. In this regard, the UN’s priorities include ensuring that millions of people do not fall further into hunger.
The UN official also noted that Myanmar’s health system is under extreme pressure because of the coronavirus crisis as well as attacks on medical personnel and facilities. Besides, there is also a civil disobedience movement by some health professionals against the junta, which Balakrishnan said has disrupted even basic services across the country.
Sources say that as hospitals are empty and healthcare practically non-existent, because of the civil disobedience movement, volunteers are going house-to-house to provide health care and collect bodies for burials.
A report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday estimated that up to 3.4 million additional people could be at risk of food insecurity due to the economic slowdown between April and September. At the peak of Covid-19 in mid-2020, the scale of food insecure people was estimated at about 2.8 million.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that nearly half of Myanmar’s population could fall into poverty by the beginning of 2022, doubling the rate of 2017. The economy is expected to contract by 10 percent in 2021. Job losses, high food and fuel prices, plus declining remittances, are impacting vulnerable households’ access to food, particularly families living in informal settlements on the outskirts of towns. The scenario has been exacerbated by the third wave of Covid-19 infections currently raging in the country.
Standing with Myanmar’s people
Despite the worsening situation, with the UN’s limited access to crisis areas, disruption to the banking system which limits its ability to transfer funds to humanitarian partners, Balakrishnan pledged the UN’s solidarity and closeness with the people and their will.
“The UN will continue to call out human rights violations and is committed to stay and deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar, in addition to sending in the COVID-19 response," Balakrishnan added.